1. Controversy Clouds Red Wing

On July 6, Red Wing High School filled two of its biggest vacancies when it was announced that Brad Ryan would be the school’s new activities director and John Ott was announced as the Wingers’ new football coach.

In three months time, both of them would be out of the picture.

Nine days after accepting the AD position, and just 72 hours before the School Board was about to announce the hiring, Ryan withdrew his name from consideration. On July 28, less than a month before fall sports began practice, Red Wing pegged John Miller, a teacher at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wis., as the new activities director.

Then in October, Ott resigned.

During a School Board meeting on Oct. 3, allegations of political harassment and unfair treatment by a group of parents and players were levied against Ott and his coaching staff.

“I have always kept my political life separate from children’s schooling and development. In the course of trying to resolve this matter, other troubling issues have surfaced,” John Howe, a former Red Wing mayor and state senator, wrote to the board prior to the Oct. 3 meeting. “I would encourage the school board and administration to discuss the value in having a mission statement which would give a coherent and consistent policy that would guide the coaching staff on player development and player involvement. RWHS student athletes must be given an equal opportunity to compete for their desired roles, as well as a fair chance to develop and grow in those roles.”

Two days later, on Oct. 5, Ott resigned as head football coach and as a special education teacher at Red Wing High School.

“I cannot be employed by a district that allows parents to dictate where their child should be playing on the football field, nor can I consent to a parent to allow their child to continue to play football after their son has undermined the football team and staff by failing at a coordinated attempt to organize a walkout,” Ott wrote in his resignation letter to the school district.

The Wingers were 0-5 and were two days away from playing Mankato West when the news broke, leaving Kyle Blahnik and Clair Austin to co-head coaching duties for the rest of the season.

The story broke big, garnering national attention.

The Red Wing Republican Eagle filed Minnesota data practices and freedom of information requests to determine the true course of events and to ensure the board followed the Open Meeting Law. The district’s attorney answered on Nov. 9, redacting every mention of a child or parent in the 112-page document - even deleting names from printed versions of the emails the RE staff members had sent to district officials.

The football team finished 0-9. The district has yet to name a new head coach.

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-Joe Brown, sports editor

2. Goodhue Girls' Basketball Goes Out A Winner

The last four games of the season were more of a coronation than a gauntlet for the Goodhue girls’ basketball team. After a sub-section final comeback that defied reality, the Wildcats won their final games of the season by 33, 31, 29 and 21 points, the last of which was against Maranatha Christian in the Class 1A championship game.

Said Goodhue head coach Josh Wieme, “This whole week (of the state tournament) has been some of our best basketball all season. And what we saw (against Maranatha) was just a tremendous focus, especially on the girls playing on top against those guards. … Just the focus of our kids all week has been incredible.”

Maddy Miller led the Wildcats with 21 points, and added 11 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive end. Sydney Lodermeier had 24 points in the win, and McKenzie Ryan added 13.

After going 30-4 in 2015-16, Goodhue opened this season ranked No. 1.

- Kyle Stevens, sports reporter

3. Cougars Softball Crowned

For years, Zumbrota-Mazeppa knew they were among the state’s best. But, some of the state’s elite would stand in the way like Kasson-Mantorville and Winona Cotter.

A fourth class helped open things up for the Cougars to make state for the first time since 2011. But make no mistake: Z-M proved it was on another level on the way to the school’s first state title.

Opening the Class 2A tournament against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, the Cougars picked up a 2-0 victory, thanks in large part to a one-hitter thrown by all-everything senior pitcher Morgan Olson. Then in one of the tightest games in the state tournament, Olson hit a one-out triple and reached home on a throwing error to break a 1-1 tie with Le Sueur-Henderson for a 2-1 semifinals victory. Natalie Majerus also had a home run in the semis.

Then came the state finals against Pequot Lakes, which Z-M dominated in a 7-0 victory. The only thing that could slow down the Cougars was a four-hour rain delay as Olson struck out 12 and gave up only two hits while also driving in two runs in the title game. Olson, Majerus and Bella Wagner were all named to the Class 2A All-Tournament team.

-Joe Brown, sports editor

4. Knights Crowned On Wrestling Mat

Kenyon-Wanamingo was the favorite, but that doesn’t mean much when it comes to the state tournament. It doesn’t even mean much before, as the Knights learned in 2015 when Zumbrota-Mazeppa upset K-W in the Section 1A finals.

But the Knights of 2016 were not to be denied, beating Caledonia, Pierz and Frazee on their way to the school’s first wrestling state championship.

“It’s nice to finish a season not second somewhere,” K-W head coach Matt Ryan said last spring. “Six in a row in the section and the last time we were here we finished second, too. This was … I can’t hardly believe it worked out. But it did.”

The Knights had to work hard for its title, but by not giving up bonus points, and securing them when they could, K-W was able to come out on top.

“All the hard work, blood and tears we put in finally paid off,” said then-senior 170-pounder Ted Androli.

-Kyle Stevens, sports reporter


5. Area Athletes Reach The Mountain Top

Seven individuals won state championships in 2016, and some of them nearly won the school a state title.

Pine Island’s Kyle Groven won the 400-meter dash in 48.61 seconds, and teammate Mitchell Acker won the 800 in 1:55.39. Along with Tristan Akason and Jack Williams, Groven and Acker won the 4x400 relay in 3:25.81. Those four Panthers finished second as a team with 55 points, just behind state champion Rushford-Peterson/Houston.

Wrestling produced three area state champions, beginning with Jeron Matson of Kenyon-Wanamingo. Matson, who also won a team title with the Knights, won the 106-pound Class 1A title. Also in Class 1A, Goodhue’s Bailee O’Reilly won the 152-pound championship. Ryan Epps, of Cannon Falls, captured the 145-pound, Class 2A crown.

-Kyle Stevens, sports reporter

6. Red Wing Boys Break Through

Red Wing boys’ basketball was hell-bent on making sure the season didn’t end for a fourth-straight year in Rochester in the Section 1AAA finals. 

After years of knocking on the glass ceiling, the Wingers finally broke through by winning the section title over Northfield on March 4, 67-51.

“It’s been tough, kind of a nightmare down here the last couple years,” said Red Wing head coach Doug Toivonen, Red Wing’s 12-year head coach that got his first state team in his final year. “Tonight, I thought we really answered the bell.”

The state tournament began against Simley, where the Wingers cruised to a 73-51 victory thanks to the sharp-shooting of Ben Munson and Carson Bryan, who hit a combined nine 3-pointers.

Unfortunately, Red Wing’s title hopes came to an end after a 58-55 defeat against Fergus Falls in the Target Center.

The focus shifted to Concordia-St. Paul where the Wingers beat Monticello in the third-place game, capping off a 29-3 season for the most wins in school history.

-Joe Brown, sports editor

7. Wildcat Boys Reach Title Game

In a two-week span, it would be understandable if there wasn’t much learning going on at Goodhue Public Schools.

Like their female counterparts, the Goodhue boys’ basketball team reached the Class 1A state tournament, the team’s first since 2011, and got all the way to the Target Center for the state championship game.

After two straight losses in the section finals in 2014 and 2015, Goodhue finally snapped that streak with a 58-44 win over Spring Grove in the Section 1A title game in Rochester.

“Two years of heartbreak and we’re always the ones that are in the locker room moping around after the game and hearing the other team cheering,” said Goodhue’s Jacob McNamara. “It’s just nice to be on the other end of it for once.”

The Wildcats opened state with a 54-29 victory over Lake Park-Audubon. Then in the semifinals, Goodhue managed to hold off Central Minnesota Christian, 41-38.

The title game saw the Wildcats face off with one of the state’s best teams, regardless of class, in Minneapolis North. The Polars went up 15-2 in the first half, but Goodhue stunned the crowd by going on a 24-10 run to take a 26-25 halftime lead. Minneapolis North went on to win the small-school title, 68-45.

- Joe Brown, sports editor

8. Panthers Baseball Team Sends Anderson Out In Style

On May 19, Craig Anderson said goodbye. The long-time Pine Island coach was calling it quits after the season, ending a 40-year run.

But the Panthers were not done with Anderson or he with them. Pine Island beat Zumbrota-Mazeppa the day Anderson announced his retirement, but lost a key section game the following day. Yet the Panthers would refuse to allow Anderson to slip away.

The Section 1AA tournament began with a 2-0 win over Triton, and continued with an extra-innings, one-run victory over Z-M. Lake City pushed the next game to 10 innings, but a second-straight 2-1 win was Pine Island’s for the taking. Then, against Chatfield, the Panthers gave Anderson a trip to the state tournament as a retirement gift.

St. Cloud would be where Anderson coached his final games, consecutive losses to Belle Plaine and Proctor. But the Hall of Fame coach, who took over at Pine Island in 1976, made good on something he said the day he told the town he was done: “We obviously have a lot of friends here. And over 40 years, we’ve had some outstanding athletes that have played for me. I’ve taught here. I love this town. This community has been really good to me. To have an opportunity to work with young guys that have a passion for baseball, like I do, hopefully, when they get to be my age, in their 60s, they’ll be reminiscing about playing ball with their friends. That’s my hope for these guys.”

-Kyle Stevens, sports reporter

9. Boldt Gets The Call

Twenty rounds separated Ryan Boldt’s two selections in MLB’s entry draft. In 2013, Boldt, coming off an injury that ended his high-school career, was taken in the 22nd round by Boston. This year, Boldt was taken in the second round, 53rd overall, by Tampa Bay.

“It was a really special night,” said Boldt, who watched the draft at his parents’ house in Red Wing. “We saw the picks go by, and my advisor told me that Tampa Bay was going to pick me. It was a special moment for me and my family.”

Boldt could have turned down the Rays’ offer and stayed for his senior season at the University of Nebraska. But Boldt said the thought “this is the right time for me in my development.”

Boldt finished his collegiate career with 223 hits, a .313 batting average with 33 doubles, 10 triples, eight home runs, 82 RBI and 36 stolen bases.

In 43 games at short-season Hudson Valley (Class A), Boldt hit .218 with five doubles, a triple, a home run, 15 RBI and eight stolen bases.

-Kyle Stevens, sports reporter

10. A State Trip 18 Years In The Making

In recent years, the Red Wing boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams have found success. The boys reached state in back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014. Then, the girls got to state for just the second time in 2015.

But for the first time in 18 years, both the Winger boys’ and girls’ teams got to make the trek to St. Olaf College in Northfield together.

At the Section 1AA championship meet in Owatonna, the Red Wing boys won the section title while the girls were the section runners-up, putting both teams at state for the first time since 1998.

“It just makes it so rewarding because for how many years in 10-plus years coaching and not getting any teams to state,” Red Wing head coach Jesse Nelson said after the section meet. “Being so close with the boys so often and finally getting over the hump four years ago, and getting over the hump last year with the girls. Now both of them, it’s so rewarding.

“I’m just very happy for all the kids, the entire program and the entire school. This is good for our school and our community and Red Wing fall sports.”

At state, the girls placed 10th while the boys finished in 11th place.

-Joe Brown, sports editor